Tsering Bista: Ebi et Watashi Ni

person's hand resting on pole
Ebi, at 96, when I last saw her in Kathmandu. 2015.

To be completely transparent, I don’t have a compelling update on the progression of my project, especially considering that my first interview hasn’t happened yet (it’s scheduled for August 15th), but I do have some thoughts I’d love to share:

The merging of my private family history with the word “research” and all its academic connotations feels out of place. This visual exploration of my family’s linguistic migration across three continents, featuring my grandmother and three female cousins, is so deeply personal that framing it with an audience in mind and mapping out a rigid pre and post-production schedule has become a little daunting and difficult to accept. But on the other hand, I know that without mentors and deadlines holding me accountable, I would have probably never set aside the time to work on this project. I’ve had the entire summer to think about it, often in fragments— when elderly women in bus windows pass me on my walk to work, when my eyes focus on the Japanese characters on the walls of my favorite ramen shop in D.C., when I hear bits of French conversation as I walk across the Mall. Yet, even with months to ruminate, I feel largely unprepared for what is to come in the next few weeks, and fully content with that feeling. The scaffolding is up, but I know that most of this project will take its form as it is being carried out. As of now, I have my flights booked, my gear ready, and my day-to-day plans written down. Everything else is kind of up in the air. I don’t know exactly what it is I’ll be documenting, what themes will emerge from these conversations that I have with my family members, and what the final product will be. But I’m sure that I will have far too much footage at the end of these three weeks and many stories to share about my family’s history, and how language and immigration play a part in it.

One thought on “Tsering Bista: Ebi et Watashi Ni

  1. Hi Tsering,

    It seems that we have a similar DASR research project. I’m doing family “research” too, also to become a film, mostly on my grandparents and Alzheimers. With my three weeks of filming already behind me, I thought maybe I could share my experience with you, and maybe it could be helpful:

    Before I started I was definitely nervous. I was worried about my interview questions and the research I had done, whether it was sufficient etc. With hindsight it is now clear to see that the research I had done before getting on a plane to my grandparents’ house most definitely wasn’t sufficient. However, it is now also clear that there was no way of reaching the appropriate level of knowledge without actually living with them, and experiencing Alzheimer’s with them. By this I mean to say that you will learn so much by being with your family in their world, as you seem to already be expecting. Your presence there will make you feel more confident and will shape, and maybe even drastically change, the final product, and there is not much to do until then.

    On the topic of merging family and research, I would like to share a small epiphany. For my film I was planning to take a direct cinema approach. I intended to film my grandparents’ going about their daily activities as they ordinarily would without me there. I soon found out that this wouldn’t be possible. As their granddaughter, I soon became a character in the film too and my film lost its “objective” point of view. They interacted with me while I filmed and I soon became less concerned about interacting with them. Also, as a contact of theirs, I was privy to much more than just straight answers to particular questions, which served as both a challenge and a blessing.

    I’m commenting a little late, but I hope that this info can still be helpul!

    Happy filming!

  2. I think the problem you have is unique but certainly one I can sympathize with in having involved family situations and histories in other projects I’ve had involvement with. It always seems a little invasive and awkward to try and lay out how we are going to present a story that is personal to us, one that we learn and experience in a totally different way from the rest of the world. The question for me always becomes whether or not I want to try and replicate that feeling you have experiencing it for others, or if you want them to have their own unique reaction to the stories. Of course, as you’ve already said, it’s kind of difficult to know since you haven’t started yet. I mainly comment here to provide you with some thoughts as an outsider, which I hope help you since you likely know the answers and maybe can highlight any of these things when sifting through your final gathering:

    -What are the generational differences between these women, and how do they effect the way their stories have been shaped? The common factor, other than being family, is migration, but that looks very different depending on when and where and why it’s happening. This could be very interesting to play out for others.
    -Building off of this, you’re interested in language. How do the relationships these women have to language differ? What is your relationship to language like, likely having conducted these interviews in various languages? Language is meant to bond people together, but what does it mean when you’re the outside learning the new language? If you know many, where does your loyalty lie?
    -Lastly, the fact that they are all women. Having had a project that involved women’s roles myself, I’m super curious what it means to be a woman in each of these worlds, what rules come into play in societies and what problems they may have caused for your grandmother or for your cousins. You could definitely play up the contrasts that will be here, and it might be worth reflecting a bit on how you see yourself as another woman in this family, too.

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